Design in the Desert: The Architecture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi 2020

Rising from the sand, Dubai is home to one of the world’s most distinctive and rapidly growing skylines. With the help of massive investments from the government as well as foreign investors, hundreds of imaginative skyscrapers have sprung up in this United Arab Emirates city. These include ambitious building projects like the Burj Al Arab, designed to mimic the shape of a traditional sail; the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made archipelago on an unprecedented scale in the shape of a palm tree; and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world. The variety of designs is highly eclectic — the result of influence from both Arab and international architectural and design firms.

After exploring the highlights of Dubai, travel to the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi — the capital of the UAE and home to extravagant architecture such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Learn about the complex relationship the two emirates share when it comes to designing buildings and the economics behind their growth. Delve also into the darker side of such rapid expansion — accusations of worker abuse and human rights violations. Come away with a balanced perspective and new insight into this fascinating and dynamic part of the world.   

Nov 7-13, 2020

Nov 14-20, 2020

7 Days

6 Nights

United Arab Emirates


Architecture & Design

7 Days, 6 Nights

Trip Cost, Per Traveler

$5,395 double occupancy
(Single supplement: $695.00 )
$500 Deposit
or Call 855.890.5298
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Expedition Highlights

Spend a full day exploring Dubai’s architecture, including the Palm Jumeirah, the Dubai Marina, Burj Khalifa and the Atlantis Hotel.

Get an insider’s look at the mechanics of Ski Dubai, the most well-known indoor ski and snowboard park in the world. See how the snow is created and discover the engineering feats that made snow in the desert possible.

In the opulent Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic hotel in the shape of a ship’s sail, dine at the renowned Al Mahara restaurant, which, instead of walls, boasts a floor-to-ceiling aquarium.

Travel to Abu Dhabi to see many of the city’s architectural wonders, including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the new Louvre Museum.

Our Expedition Experts
Phoebe Crisman - LA Expeditions Expert

Phoebe Crisman

Professor of architecture at the University of Virginia and director the Global Environments + Sustainability program.

Day 1

Welcome to Dubai

Arrive at Dubai International Airport and transfer to your hotel. During a welcome dinner tonight aboard the Bateaux Dubai, enjoy dinner and drinks while gliding over the Dubai Creek channel in luxury as your host introduces you to the city’s architectural history. (D)

Day 2

Old Dubai

Explore the cultural side of the city today as you experience Old Dubai. Walk through the local textile market, then board a water taxi to reach the spice and gold souks in Deira. The afternoon will be at leisure. Gather this evening for a presentation on the architecture of the UAE. Discuss the history of the Emirates as well as current building projects and delve deeper into the sites you will visit the next day. (B, L)

Day 3

New Dubai

Dive right into the action with an all-day architectural tour of Dubai. This full itinerary includes the most unique and ambitious architecture in the region. Begin at the Nakheel Development Center, home to a government-owned organization responsible for many of the largest building projects in Dubai. Continue to one of Nakheel’s projects — the Palm Jumeirah. Ride the monorail for an up-close look at this man-made archipelago crafted in the shape of an enormous palm tree. Other visits today include Dubai Marina, home to hundreds of skyscrapers constructed within the last five years. Pause for lunch on your own at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. After lunch, explore Business Bay and downtown Dubai. Dine this evening inside the opulent Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic hotel created in the shape of a ship’s sail. Gather for an elegant dinner at Al Mahara where, instead of walls, the restaurant is lined with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium. (B, D)

Day 4

Only in Dubai

After breakfast, depart for the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest malls in the world. This massive complex is much more than a shopping center. It is also home to Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East as well as a remarkable architectural achievement. This unique structure includes five ski slopes and a 400-meter ski run. Learn from your host just what kind of planning was required to create a snowy 85-meter-high mountain in the desert. Head to the Burj Khalifa for a special experience: You’ll travel to an observation deck on the 124th floor for unparalleled views of the city and then have dinner overlooking the Burj Khalifa fountain, where a nightly water and light show will dazzle your senses. (B, D)

Day 5

To Abu Dhabi

Check out of your Dubai hotel and depart for Abu Dhabi, a 1.5-hour drive. Along the way, your host will discuss the complex and often competitive relationship between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Each seeks to outdo the other, investing in ambitious and costly building projects — with mixed success.

Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an elegant place of worship that took an international team nearly a decade to complete. The grounds are large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, making it the largest mosque in the UAE. It was designed as an international project, utilizing materials and artisans from Morocco, Pakistan, India, Italy, Greece and many other countries. The ornate carpet in the main hall is considered the largest in the world. Reflecting pools that run alongside the arcade shine light onto the mosque’s 96 columns, which are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. See the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, said to be among the most intricate ever created. Visit the newly constructed Louvre in Abu Dhabi, with its distinctive metallic roof designed to imitate the effect of light filtering through palm leaves. Enjoy dinner as a group this evening. (B, D)

Day 6

Exploring Abu Dhabi

Spend a full day exploring the architecture of Abu Dhabi, where unique buildings — some with nicknames such as ”the Pineapples” and “the Coin” — proliferate. Head to Yas Marina Circuit — the home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — and pass the nearby Ferrari World, an indoor theme park notable as the world’s largest space frame structure. Lunch on Yas Island before touring the under-construction Masdar City, a planned community that seeks to run exclusively on renewable energy. This evening, toast the end of your trip at a farewell dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 7


Travelers depart for Abu Dhabi International Airport for individual flights home. (B)

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Carolina Miranda